A federal judge on Oct. 9 dropped an indictment against an Elk Grove doctor who was accused of forcing two non-U.S. citizens to work on her property.

Dr. Firdos Sheikh, a neurologist, faced 20 years in federal prison if she was convicted on the counts of forced labor and alien harboring for financial gain.

A federal grand jury indicted her in 2018 for allegedly harboring a Mexican and a Nepalese national, and threatening to harm them if they did not work for her. Sheikh denied the claims and said she never had workers live on her property, and she stated that one accuser did not work for her.

Hon. William Shubb of the Eastern District of California moved to dismiss the Sheikh case with prejudice, which would allow federal prosecutors to re-indict the defendant.

Sheikh’s defense filed a claim on Sept. 18 that her right to a speedy trial was hindered by repeated court hearing delays and the uncertainty of hearings being allowed again in a federal courthouse during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Eastern District courthouse in Sacramento has been closed to the public since March.

“With no time remaining on the speedy trial clock, the government is asking the court to put Dr. Sheikh’s life on hold for an incredibly long period of time in order to bring her to trial, while she and her family continue to endure the cost, stigma, and emotional damage of incredibly weak criminal charges,” Sheikh’s defense attorney, Yasin Almadani wrote.

The defense also noted there will be a backlog of federal cases involving dangerous crimes that will be ready for trial after the federal courthouses reopen.

In his Oct. 9 response, Shubb noted the uncertainty of when court hearings can be safely held.

“If the state of California has determined it is unsafe to recreate in a bowling alley for a few hours, even with masks and social distancing, how can this court say it is any safer, to sit for several days or weeks in one of our courtrooms?” he wrote in his Oct. 9 decision.

The judge also noted the public health concerns of bringing potential jurors from several counties to one location for the trial.

Federal prosecutors in the Sheikh case suggested for her trial to begin on April 27, 2021. Shubb described that idea as “kicking the can down the road,” and noted the unpredictable conditions caused by the pandemic. He said it’s unclear if an April court hearing could be possible.

The judge in his decision also mentioned that Sheikh was not in custody.

“(The) court doubts that this case will rank high on the government’s list of cases to bring to trial,” Shubb wrote.

Almadani stated that the federal prosecution’s failure to provide exculpatory evidence in a timely manner had unreasonably delayed his client’s right to a speedy trail.

“It is more important now than ever for prosecutors to set priorities, examine evidence carefully, and pursue only righteous cases,” Almadani said in a statement to the Citizen. “Dr. Sheikh is an honest, hard-working woman who should never have been prosecuted.”